How Do You Straighten Crooked Teeth? What Works, and What to Avoid

How Do You Straighten Crooked Teeth? What Works, and What to Avoid

Everyone wants a nice smile. Crooked teeth are often cited as one of the top things people hate most about their own bodies. But you don’t have to live with them. So how do you straighten crooked teeth?

Dental science has given us a number of options for correcting crooked teeth. Sometimes what is needed is more space between those teeth, which means expanding the palate. Sometimes an overbite or an underbite requires moving the jaw. Most of the time, teeth simply grow in crooked because they do not have sufficient space to grow straight, causing them to jut out or come in slightly twisted.

If you have crooked teeth of your own and are tired of covering them up, especially for photos, there is a lot you can do with the help of a dentist or orthodontist: traditional braces, clear aligners (Invisalign), headgear, retainers, and surgery and/or tooth removal. (We will also review the latest trends in DIY braces and “at-home” orthodontics.)

Traditional Braces

Traditional metal braces have been the tool of choice for dentists and orthodontists for decades. These braces consist of small metal brackets attached to the teeth. A wire runs through the brackets, pushing or pulling them (and your teeth) to their correct positions. Traditional dental braces are used to straighten crooked teeth affected by crowding, protrusions, alignment issues, irregular spacing, and more.

If the idea of metal braces showing makes you think twice, there are braces-like options, such as ceramic braces and lingual braces.

Clear Aligners (Invisalign)

Metal or ceramic braces that use brackets cannot be removed. Alternatives, like clear aligner trays, can be removed if needed and work just as well as traditional braces.

The best-known brand of clear aligner trays is Invisalign. Invisalign consists of a series of clear BPA-free plastic aligners that fit over your teeth. Each set of aligners is worn for approximately two weeks and then replaced with the next set. As patients progress through the series of aligners, the teeth move gradually toward the correct final position.

Invisalign has the advantage that it does not interfere much with eating or talking, is barely noticeable, and can be removed when needed. Plus, research has shown that Invisalign is just as effective as braces for those who want to straighten crooked teeth. We recommend reading up on some online reviews of Invisalign to see if it is right for you.


Orthodontic headgear is attached inside your mouth but uses the outside area of your head as leverage to move your teeth. Often headgear is used when you need more space in your mouth than what can be safely done with braces, or when your entire jaw needs to be moved or aligned.

Headgear can apply force to teeth by bracing against your neck (cervical headgear), the back and top of your head (high-pull headgear), or your chin/face (reverse headgear). Headgear is often used together with traditional braces, but unlike braces, it can be removed as needed.


How do you fix crooked teeth that are only a little out of line? A simple retainer could do the trick.

Retainers were originally designed to help teeth retain their new positions after braces are taken off (hence the name). But more and more, dentists are using retainers to make minor adjustments to their patients’ mouths.

In particular, Hawley retainers, which are made of removable metal wires and acrylic, can help straighten crooked teeth that are only a little out of alignment. That said, check with your dentist. If you use a retainer when true braces or Invisalign are needed, you might be paying a lot for something that will not work for your case.

Surgery and/or Tooth Removal

At the other end, severe cases in which teeth are exceptionally crooked or misplaced might need to be surgically moved, or removed altogether. Some surgeries involve making a small break in the jaw, aligning it, and then letting it heal into its correct place.

Because these treatments are invasive and painful, they are often a last resort for severe cases.

Accelerated Orthodontics?

In dentistry, new products are always coming on the market. Some of these new products go under the name “accelerated orthodontics.” This is a fancy way of saying that they do not correct problems per se, but help speed up more traditional methods like braces.

One such system is the PROPEL system. With PROPEL, the bones supporting the teeth are stimulated.This produces what is called an “inflammatory response” that speeds up the movement of the teeth.

Another common system is the AcceleDent system. With AcceleDent, small vibrations are sent through the roots of the teeth and into the surrounding bone. This gentle vibration helps increase the rate at which bone is removed from the front of the tooth and replaced near the back of the tooth. The result, so they claim, is faster tooth movement.

In the early days of these methods, it was not clear that they helped. But they have been refined over time, and there is accumulating evidence that they can help speed up the process.

That said, start with traditional braces or Invisalign. Neither of the accelerated methods described works alone.

DIY Braces?

While there are a number of people with a crooked smile, not all of them are willing to make the financial investment to fix their jaw and straighten their crooked teeth. People have often been inspired by YouTube videos and blog posts to try moving their teeth themselves, without input from a dentist or orthodontist.

This is not a good idea. The chances that you can overshoot your goals and/or do some serious harm to your teeth are just too great to be worth it. One consumer alert put out by the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics shows in graphic detail one case where a rubber band used for DIY orthodontic treatment slipped under the gum line and down to the tooth root. (Warning: not for sensitive people.) The rubber band had to be surgically removed, and then traditional orthodontics resumed. All of that cost more than braces would have cost to begin with.

So, our collective suggestion is this: Skip the DIY treatment, and talk to a professional instead. You can find a professional using our local dentist locator tool.